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When a high school student needed a $30,000 scholarship, prison inmates stepped up

The inmates at Soledad State Prison launched the scholarship, even selling their possessions and food, to help a student who could no longer afford tuition.

When a high school student needed a $30,000 scholarship, prison inmates stepped up
Image Source: Getty Images/ Martina Birnbaum (representative)

Inmates in California's Soledad State Prison rose to the occasion when a student at Palma School, an elite private school for boys in Salinas, California, needed $30,000 in tuition to sponsor his education. The inmates are part of a reading program launched by the school in partnership with the Correctional Training Facility (CTF). The "brothers in blue," as they are called, are a reading group comprised of prison inmates and high school students, an unlikely faction. When the inmates learned that one student was struggling to pay his tuition, they sponsored the funds he needed, helping him graduate in 2020 and attend college at The Academy of Art University in San Francisco, CNN reports.




The reading group was created by English and Theology teacher Jim Michelleti seven years ago. He stated, "I didn't believe it at first. They said, 'We value you guys coming in. We'd like to do something for your school... Can you find us a student on campus who needs some money to attend Palma?'" They identified Sy Green, one Palma School student who could no longer afford the monthly $1,200 fee after both his parents suffered medical emergencies. The inmates came together to raise the $30,000 the student needed.




"Regardless of the poor choices that people make, most people want to take part in something good," stated Jason Bryant. "Guys were eager to do it." Bryant is a former inmate who was instrumental in launching the scholarship. He served 20 years at the Soledad State Prison for armed robberies. In one robbery, one victim was fatally shot by an accomplice. He spent his time under incarceration earning his bachelor's degree as well as two master's degrees. He also ran leadership training programs for inmates. He shared, "I'm never far from the reality that I committed a crime in 1999 that devastated a family—several families—and irreparably harmed my community. I keep that close to my heart, and I would hope that people can identify the power of forgiveness and the probability of restoration when people put belief in each other."




Bryant was only one of the inmates who scrambled to make the scholarship a possibility. Many others contributed too. One of them was Reggie, who donated his entire monthly paycheck of $100 to the cause. He shared, "I get paid to do what I do, so, why not pay it forward and give it to someone else for a change?" In prison, the minimum wage can be as low as eight cents an hour, making a single penny worth more than it is in the "free world." Those who did not have any money to donate sold their possessions or food in order to be part of the initiative. Though the brothers in blue did not choose Green as their candidate for the scholarship, they believe he was the "perfect" fit.




The student's father, Frank Green, was deeply moved when he received the news that his son would receive the scholarship. "It brought me to tears," he said. "At that particular time, it was truly a blessing. It was unheard of." He needed heart surgery and was unable to work, leaving Green on the brink of being unable to pay his tuition. Although he is now attending college, he plans to visit the prison frequently. He affirmed, "That's only the right thing to do. Beyond the scholarship, the knowledge that they pour into you, that's, that's the best thing. They definitely take my future [seriously] and they genuinely do care about me as a person."



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